Canadian businesses sitting on excess cash are waiting for signs of economic confidence before they start spending it, according to the head of Canada’s largest railroad.

“A little more confidence, first and foremost in the vaccine,” Canadian National Railway Co. Chief Executive Officer JJ Ruest said when asked in an interview on Thursday what it would take for his company to unleash some spending.

A CIBC report on Tuesday found that Canadian firms are sitting on more than $80 billion in excess cash, a 15-per-cent year-over-year bump in their reserves.

The report’s co-author, CIBC Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal, said in an interview on Tuesday that firms that are less affected by the pandemic-led economic downturn are simply waiting to “see the light” before spending.

“I think a lot of this cash is held by companies and sectors that are not impacted directly by the crisis. In fact, they’re benefiting from it,” Tal said.

“At the same time, they’re not in the mood to invest when the economy is down, so they’re sitting on this cash – waiting, looking for direction – and this cash will be utilized the minute they see the light.”

Ruest confirmed Tal’s thesis, to a degree, stating that CN Rail is willing to spend, but only once the investing environment shows signs of improvement.

“All of us, typically, are willing to take calculated risks. We like to grow,” Ruest said.

“We like to re-invest, and in an environment where the future is not necessarily known, but the future has an environment that gives you reason (to think) that we won’t get a third wave, for example, then that kind of confidence will come back and I think that money will get back to the marketplace in capital investments, hopefully.”